By Lucy Papachristou

LONDON (Reuters) -A Russian court has ordered the Interior Ministry to pay 3.8 million roubles ($40,600) in compensation to the family of a man who committed suicide after being tortured in police custody nearly seven years ago, Russian rights group Travmpunkt said on Monday.

In a high-profile case that made national headlines, a court in the Tatarstan region found five former employees of the local interior ministry guilty of torturing the man, Ilnaz Pirkin, in an attempt to extract a false confession for a string of robberies.

Pirkin killed himself in October 2017, shortly after he was released from police custody in Nizhnekamsk, a city of 250,000 some 650 miles (1,000 km) east of Moscow. He was 22 years old.

Several officers - including the head of the local anti-corruption unit - were convicted in 2020 of abusing him and some received long jail terms, although some of their sentences were reduced last year.

In what rights activists say is a rare instance of accountability for abuse of power in Russia, the Nizhnekamsk city court on Monday ordered the interior ministry to pay 3 million roubles ($32,000) in moral damages to Pirkin's parents and 800,000 roubles ($8,600) to his sister.

Sergei Babinets, a Russian lawyer and head of rights group "Crew Against Torture", said the sum was "very significant" for domestic courts, which normally grant 150,000 roubles ($1,600) in compensation on average to the families of torture victims.

Crew Against Torture has documented 3,591 instances of human rights violations in Russia since the group began work in 2000 and has secured 167 convictions for torture perpetrated by government officials.

Investigators initiated criminal proceedings in only 45% of torture cases identified by the group, it said.

"We hope that the increase in compensation is not an isolated case, but a systemic change that aims to protect the rights of citizens who have suffered from the crimes of officials," Babinets said in a statement provided to Reuters.

In a video Pirkin recorded before taking his life, he said police officers took him to a local forest and beat him, and later put a gas mask over his head to restrict his air supply, according to a transcript of the video published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

"Yes, of course I signed all the papers saying that I wasn't pressured," Pirkin said. "I hope that my deed and this video will somehow influence them (the police) in the future."

($1 = 93.4770 roubles)

(Reporting and writing by Lucy PapachristouEditing by Peter Graff)